Draft constitution slammed at UN seminar

A well-known Caymanian attorney criticised the constitutional development process employed by the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom during a United Nations seminar held this week in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Sophia Harris, a partner at the law firm Solomon & Harris in Grand Cayman, said that the UN standard of ‘self-determination’ has not and will not be achieved by the Cayman Islands even if voters approve the constitutional modernisation proposal in Wednesday’s scheduled referendum.

‘All we will have is a revised administrative document between the UK and a colony, as opposed to a constitutional document of the people and by the people,’ Mrs. Harris told members of the seminar.

The UN Committee of 24 on Decolonisation has sought for the past decade to modernise the relationship between the world’s remaining territories and their former colonial masters with an eye toward giving those territories the chance to determine their own future.

The UN has essentially given the territories and their governing countries three options: independence, becoming a part of the ruling country, or a freely-agreed associative state between the two.

A statement released Wednesday by the Caymanian Bar Association indicated that none of those three options are being taken in Cayman’s draft constitution.

‘A close examination of the provisions reveals that…authority would still ultimately be exercised on (Her Majesty, the Queen of England’s) behalf by the Governor (of the Cayman Islands),’ the Bar Association’s statement read. ‘The draft constitution does not appear to provide a fundamental change in the nature of the current relationship between the United Kingdom and the Cayman Islands.’

Mrs. Harris’ testimony before the UN seminar on Wednesday indicated that Cayman and the UK had not met their obligations either in educating the local populace about constitutional modernisation, or in making the process open and transparent.

‘As this 2009 draft Cayman Islands constitution is still in fact only a revised administrative document, first and foremost, the negotiations were not open to the public solely on the orders of the UK,’ Mrs. Harris testified.

‘Ian Hendry, the head of the UK delegation to the negotiations said that holding them in public would have made them ‘unlikely to produce any real results because of the political posturing and grandstanding that would have assuredly occurred.’ Political posturing became the impetus behind the exclusion of the people from the people’s constitution,’ Mrs. Harris said.

Cayman’s government initially intended to have a referendum vote in May 2008, ahead of talks with the UK. But plans fell through as members of the public argued there simply wasn’t enough time for full consideration.

The government then scrapped plans for the early referendum and embarked on a set of closed-door talks with the UK, which produced a draft constitution earlier this year.

With little or no ability to make changes to the draft agreement, Caymanian voters will now decide on the proposed constitution in a straight yes-or-no vote next Wednesday.

‘This notwithstanding that the UK itself has no written constitution; is in the process of its own education campaign as they look to having a written constitution for the first time; and are themselves evaluating whether or not to have a bill of rights enshrined in their future written constitution,’ Mrs. Harris said. ‘The entire process, they have speculated, will take some 10 to 20 years to accomplish.’

‘Apparently, we (in Cayman) do not have the benefit of a similar evaluation.’

Mrs. Harris’ testimony continued: ‘The consequences of possibly now having a bill of rights enshrined in a constitution that has been drafted ‘on the run’…without the full benefit of a proper analysis can be only proven over time. This could prove to be the most costly experiment the Cayman Islands would have ever engaged in yet.’

The UK is currently seeking to have a number of its overseas territories, including Cayman, taken off the UN decolonisation list; meaning the UK has essentially satisfied its international obligations regarding UN mandates on the issue.

No parties involved in the on-going constitutional negotiations in the past 18 months have presented independence from the UK as an option. Neither have they proposed becoming a part of the United Kingdom.